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Court Denies Petition to Set Aside an Acknowledgment of Paternity – Merritt v. Allen, 99 A.D.3d 1006 (N.Y. App. Div. 2012)


In this case the court was asked to set aside an acknowledgement of paternity, direct a paternity test, and discontinue child support payments.  The mother responded by filing a motion to dismiss the petition.  Not surprisingly, the court denied the petitioner’s request and granted the mother’s motion to dismiss.

Typically establishing paternity is only an issue if the child is born to unmarried parents. If the parents are married when the child is born, the husband of the mother is deemed the legal father of the child. This is the case even if there is reason to suspect that another man is the biological father.  If the parents are not married, there are a few ways to establish paternity.  One way is to get a DNA test which will indicate whether or not a man is the biological father of the child.  Another way is for both parents to sign a document called an “Acknowledgement of Paternity.”  The form requires that the parents agree on the paternity of the child.  There is not requirement that the parents take a DNA test to confirm paternity. Thus, if there is a question about paternity, it is a good idea to get a DNA test and to not simply sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity.

Once an Acknowledgement of Paternity is signed and filed, it is legally binding.  The father will have both the legal rights and obligations of a father, including the obligation of paying child support until the child is emancipated.  The father will also have the right to seek custody or visitation. This is the case regardless of whether or not the man who signs the form is actually the biological father.  Once paternity is established through the Acknowledge of Paternity form and child support established, it is very difficult to reverse. New York has an interest in ensuring that children are cared for.  It is in the best interest of a child to have two parents financially responsible for raising the child and to have two parents emotionally care for the child.  Thus, once a man comes forward and acknowledges that he is a child’s father and starts to pay child support, the court is reluctant to reverse it.

In Merritt, J. Merritt signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity in 2000, and started to pay child support in 2006.  He had also petitioned for and was awarded visitation with the child, and the child regarded the petitioner as his father. In 2011 Merritt filed a petition to set aside the acknowledgement of paternity and direct a paternity test.  He also wanted to stop having to pay child support.  It is unclear as to what happened that caused Merritt to seek a paternity test after 11 years.  By filing the petition is clear that Merritt is now questioning whether he is the child’s biological father.  In the court’s eyes, it no longer matters whether the child is biologically related to the Merritt. By signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity, Merritt and the child’s mother legally settled that question.  Furthermore, Merritt established a relationship with the child and has assumed financial responsibility.  The court determined that it was not in the best interests of the child to upset the situation.

The court’s position may have been quite different if the child was not 11 years old at the time of the petition and if Merritt had not been financially and emotionally supporting the child for several years.

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